Federal energy nominee from NM runs into static


NOMINATION AT BAY: Norman Bay of New Mexico has been nominated as the new chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission but he’s running into resistance.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. – The nomination of New Mexico’s Norman Bay is hitting turbulence on Capitol Hill, even though President Obama wants Bay as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is lobbying for him.

“I’m not opposing his nomination, but there are legitimate questions about his ability to lead FERC,” said William Yeatman, a specialist on environmental regulation and energy markets at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Bay’s potential chairmanship also has received pointed questions from Democrats as well as Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“I think he needs the experience to have regulatory experience to become an effective chairman,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, told the Wall Street Journal last week. “I don’t think anyone has been in that position who hasn’t had regulatory experience.”

Since 2009, Bay has served as the head of FERC’s law enforcement division but has never served as a commissioner at FERC.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has expressed her own reservations about whether Bay has the relevant experience to run the commission. Bay comes from a legal background, serving for 11 years as an assistant U.S. attorney and spending one year as U.S. attorney in the District of New Mexico in 2001.

“I don’t know if that’s the sort of bedrock experience one wants,” Yeatman said.

While most Americans aren’t very familiar with FERC, it regulates the country’s electric-grid and energy infrastructure, such as pipelines, and is going through what Yeatman calls “seismic shifts” as the Obama administration plans on expanding renewable energy sources — and contracting the use coal — as part of the country’s energy portfolio.

The committee was supposed to vote on Bay’s nomination Thursday, but that was delayed until this coming Wednesday. The hearings have become an inside-the-Beltway fight between pro-energy members of the committee and Reid, who is not on the committee but exerts great influence as Senate leader.

FERC’s current chairwoman is Cheryl LaFleur, but Reid is opposed to keeping her on. In fact, Reid has blocked two potential nominees to FERC’s top spot before settling on Bay.

“He’s been pushing hard for Bay for chairman,” Yeatman told New Mexico Watchdog in a telephone interview Monday. “That’s been acknowledged” by committee chairwoman Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana. “He’s exerted a similar degree of control over the Nuclear Regulatory Commission … There’s a lot of mystery to that. Nobody is quite sure what his motivations are.”

Reid has expressed his desire to grow renewable energy in his home state.

When asked by the Wall Street Journal whether his influence has been appropriate, Reid turned sarcastic.

“Oh really? No kidding,” Reid said. “Wow, that is amazing — that a majority leader who has a responsibility of selecting people would have some opinion as to who he suggests to the White House.”

There’s speculation that, as a compromise measure, the committee will bring back LaFleur as chairwoman for up to one year while Bay could be nominated as a commissioner until he gains enough experience to take over as chairman.

“It would seem that the stars are aligned for (Bay to get voted as commissioner instead of chairman),” Yeatman said, “and for the committee to say, ‘You can get on FERC, no problem, but given these times, you shouldn’t be the chairman of FERC. We’re going to keep Cheryl LaFleur in charge of that.”

Complicating things for Bay are accusations from former FERC General Counsel William Scherman that the agency’s law enforcement division — headed by Bay — has failed to produce legal documents concerning investigations. Bay says that’s not true.

“This is a former FERC general counsel (Scherman), a lawyer, he’s not allowed to lie,” Yeatman said. “Norman Bay’s a lawyer, he’s not allowed to lie. But one of the two is lying.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski